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Category: Books (page 2 of 3)


Goodbye Christopher Robin

Rachel Kneebone at the Foundling

Graeme Simsion

In The Name Of The Family

In The Name Of The Family Book Cover In The Name Of The Family
Sarah Dunant

The second of Sarah Dunant's novels about the Borgias, and her fifth set in Renaissance Italy.   She is a superb writer.  She has a rare talent as a novelist/historian. Her books are rooted as much in historical fact as she is able, and her dazzling imagination brings the daily lives of these extraordinary people alive - you know what they taste, what they smell of, what they wear, how they clean themselves, what illnesses they suffer and what diseases they carry.  She marries this imaginative intimacy with the epic narrative of Italian and Western European history of the period.  It is gorgeous, intoxicating, gripping and ultimately very moving.  I was surprised to find how emotional I was at the end of reading it.  Her characters - these real historical rulers - had lived with me in my head.  Her research has been vast and must have been enormously hard work, but she never writes to show off her knowledge: a rare and valuable accomplishment.

(If you haven't read her previous books, then best start with her previous Borgias novel, Blood and Beauty - better still with her trilogy of novels centring on ordinary women in Renaissance Italy. )



A couple of readers have asked what has happened to my book reviews.  The truth is I have been a bit lacksadaisical with my reading.  Sometimes I’m just not in the mood.  I did get very caught up in the podcast S-Town.  I was going to write about it but

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Cousins Book Cover Cousins
Salley Vickers

I've long meant to read Miss Garnett's Angel (and have failed to do so), so it was a pleasant surprise to receive Cousins as a present.  I am a sucker for novels about families and this one exceeded my expectations.  Told in three female voices from three generations, the story revolves around two men.  The title is deceptively simple, the plot complex as it plays with the gaps and silences between people and generations. Each voice reveals more of the family's stories and secrets, none of which feels contrived. It is an epic, gripping story involving war and (for me some little-known British) politics which shape the domestic and the intimate. Religion and mysticism also shade the book's whole.  It is based on Salley Vickers' own family.  Part of her background as a trained psychotherapist provides her already substantial writing talent with a disarming insight into the characters who, for me, really lived within the pages.

The Loney

The Loney Book Cover The Loney
Andrew Michael Hurley
John Murray
April 2016

This book is so difficult to write about that I am handing it over to other people.  Both Julie Myerson and Sarah Perry say in their Guardian reviews everything I want to.

Sarah Perry review

Julie Myerson review


On the back of my two reviews below, for Waterstones January Sale – click here:

2017 sale, Half price off hundreds of bestselling books


Books – On The Loose (Bryant & May 7)

On The Loose Book Cover On The Loose
Bryant & May Book 7
Christopher Fowler
June 2010

I'm way behind on the Bryant & May series, and accidentally missed out this book and the next in my reading sequence.  No matter.  Christopher Fowler says the books can be read in any order (apart from this one and the next).  He describes his protagonists as "Golden Age Detectives in a modern world".  Personally I think his creations are pretty unique, the nearest for me being Fred Vargas' Adamsberg.  The plot is as madcap as ever, and as usual its contrived chaos drives me to despair half-way through before pieces start dropping in place and logic conquers.  That's the joy of them.  This one delves into the history of Kings Cross and is really fascinating on that level alone.  Fowler remains childlike in his fascination with the history, folklore and myths of London - indeed his mind is not too dissimilar from Ali Smith's in its boundless creativity.  And as with Smith, Fowler's passions - his love of London and concerns for its future - lie just below the surface.

Books – Autumn

Autumn Book Cover Autumn
Ali Smith
Penguin Books
October 2016

Ali Smith's last book How To Be Both literally sent me to Ferrara.  Autumn is very much a novel about this country right now.  She is writing four books corresponding to the seasons, each one a dialogue with current affairs.  I choose the word dialogue because Ali Smith's books are unconventional.  Personally I don't get on with experimental writing, but Smith's is so captivating, and is both poetic and clearly understandable.  Autumn deals with the fallout of the Brexit vote but....just saying that takes away the magic of  this book.  Her mind is bursting with ideas and connections and she takes you on a fascinating journey - like tumbling down a waterfall in slow motion.  Just jump in and read it.  If you struggle with the first few pages, then it's probably not for  you - but I truly hope it is.

My Exciting Week

(Apologies for the “snowing” blog.  I have no control over it.)

This week I:

Baked a Christmas cake (which unfortunately burnt side and base but – I have been informed – is otherwise immensely edible)

Met a friend I haven’t seen for a while.

Cleaned the kitchen

Wrote an article for a lighting magazine

Sat through KS1 Nativity (Mary and Joseph were in need of relationship counseling, and one Roman soldier was definitely method acting)

Visited the vet – twice (apparently I own a “princess” and I am her “daddy” – I don’t think so)

Edited content of new website for the lighting company. (I’m now a dab-hand at WordPress and Visual Composer – who’d have thought?)

Taught for 2 days.



Sorted out the most important Christmas present of them all and started writing my cards.

Seen my first public space lighting project after dark for the first time (very proud of myself)

My current books are Autumn by Ali Smith (which is making me nearly miss tube stops) and Bryant and May On The Loose by Christopher Fowler

Music is currently a nostalgic but sadly relevant revisit to The The’s Infected and Dusk, and Christine and the Queen’s  Chaleur Humaine, which I find very calming.

So a very constructive week which unfortunately cannot be sustained as I have run out of money.

I  need another job.  Any offers?

After Me Comes The Flood

After Me Comes The Flood Book Cover After Me Comes The Flood
Sarah Perry
Serpent's Tail

Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent has been one of my top books of this year, so I chose this book as it is her first and previous novel.  It is very different and I don't know how I would have felt about it had I read it first.  Set in a timeless present, the book is strong on atmosphere: light and nature dominate, just as they do in The Essex Serpent.  The plot is odd.  It feels like a mystery but half way through when much is explained I felt my attention wane.  Having said that, I carried on and became caught up in it once more; the characters have stayed with me just as the book as a whole remains lingering in my mind.  I suspect I was not quite in the right frame of mind for it at the time of reading - sometimes snatching the odd 20 minutes of reading on a tube journey is not the right thing.  The book is set in a heatwave, but I would recommend it as an autumn/winter read when you can give it full attention.  It will reward you.